This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Joan of Arc Captured.
From the English side the shame of what was done to Joan canceled out the glories of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. As for the rest of us, few stories in all human history are as remarkable Joan of Arc’s. It has combat, heroism, sex, religious miracles, and high politics. A poor peasant teen, history’s first feminist. A tragedy culminating in a fiery death. Cleopatra move aside; we’re going for a ride.
This selection is from from History of France by Jules Michelet published in 1847. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Jules Michelet was a French Historian who wrote from a Protestant perspective.
After her victory at Orleans (1429), Jeanne d’Arc “knelt before the French King in the cathedral of Rheims, and shed tears of joy.” She felt that she had fulfilled her mission, and she desired to return to her home at Domremy. But King Charles VII persuaded her to remain with the army. “She still heard her heavenly voices, but she now no longer thought herself the appointed minister of heaven to lead her countrymen to certain victory.” She expected but one year more of life; but she still bravely faced the future with its perils.
The Maid took part in the capture of Laon, Soissons, Compiegne, and other places, and, in the attack on Paris, September, 1429, which she prematurely urged, was severely wounded. In a sally from Compiegne, where she was besieged by Burgundians, she was taken prisoner May 24, 1430, and held until November, when for a large payment in money she was surrendered to the English, who took her to Rouen, their real capital in France.
On January 3, 1431, by order of King Henry VI of England, Jeanne was placed in the hands of Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who had already moved to have her delivered up to the Inquisition of France, as demanded by the University of Paris. The Bishop proceeded to form at Rouen a “court of justice” for her trial, and on February 21st the Maid was brought before her judges — “Norman priests and doctors of Paris” — in the chapel of Rouen castle. The trial lasted until May 30th, forty sittings being held — some of them in Jeanne’s prison, where for a time she was kept in an iron cage.
Commanded to take “an oath to tell the truth about everything as to which she should be questioned,” she replied: “Perchance you may ask me things I would not tell you. I do not like to take an oath to tell the truth save as to matters which concern the faith.” She fearlessly tried to guard against violation of what she considered her right to be silent.
In “this odious and shameful trial,” says Guizot, “the judges’ prejudiced servility and scientific subtlety were employed for three months to wear out the courage or overreach the understanding of a young girl of nineteen, who made no defense beyond holding her tongue or appealing to God, who had dictated to her that which she had done.” Formal accusation was made under twelve heads or articles, based on the preliminary examination, and the trial proceeded to its merciless end.
In Passion Week, Jeanne d’Arc fell sick. Her temptation began, no doubt, on Palm Sunday. A country girl, born on the skirts of a forest, and having ever lived in the open air of heaven, she was compelled to pass this fine Palm Sunday in the depths of a dungeon. The grand “succor” which the Church invokes came not for her; the “doors did not open.”
They were opened on the Tuesday, but it was to lead the accused to the great hall of the castle, before her judges. They read to her the articles which had been founded on her answers, and the Bishop previously represented to her “that these doctors were all churchmen, clerks, and well read in law, divine and human; that they were all tender and pitiful, and desired to proceed mildly, seeking neither vengeance nor corporal punishment, but solely wishing to enlighten her, and put her in the way of truth and of salvation; and that, as she was not sufficiently informed in such high matters, the Bishop and the Inquisitor offered her the choice of one or more of the assessors to act as her counsel.” The accused, in presence of this assembly, in which she did not descry a single friendly face, mildly answered: “For what you admonish me as to my good, and concerning our faith, I thank you; as to the counsel you offer me, I have no intention to forsake the counsel of our Lord.”
The first article touched the capital point, submission. She replied: “Well do I believe that our holy Father, the bishops, and others of the Church are to guard the Christian faith and punish those who are found wanting. As to my deeds, I submit myself only to the Church in heaven, to God and the Virgin, to the sainted men and women in paradise. I have not been wanting in regard to the Christian faith, and trust I never shall be.” And, shortly afterward, “I would rather die than recall what I have done by our Lord’s command.”
What illustrates the time, the uninformed mind of these doctors, and their blind attachment to the letter without regard to the spirit is that no point seemed graver to them than the sin of having assumed male attire. They represented to her that, according to the canons, those who thus change the habit of their sex are abominable in the sight of God. At first she would not give a direct answer, and begged for a respite till the next day, but her judges insisted on her discarding the dress; she replied “that she was not empowered to say when she could quit it.”
“But if you should be deprived of the privilege of hearing mass?”
“Well, our Lord can grant me to hear it without you.”
“Will you put on a woman’s dress, in order to receive your Saviour at Easter?”
“No; I cannot quit this dress; it matters not to me in what dress I receive my Saviour.”
After this she seems shaken, asks to be at least allowed to hear mass, adding, “I won’t say but if you were to give me a gown such as the daughters of the burghers wear, a very long gown.”
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history